August 30, 2011
By Samantha EckertThe American Quarter Horse Journal
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Professional dog sled racer, Robin Beall, slows down for the western pleasure finals. Journal photo.
The extremely competitive Robin Beall of Grand Marias, Minnesota, had a goal to make it to the western pleasure finals at her first Adequan Select World and she did.
But, horse shows are not the only place that Robin competes. She is a professional musher and dog sled racing trainer.
Robin and her husband, Greg, work together training 20 Alaskan Huskies a year to become sled dogs. They currently have 50 of them at home, and their Miniature Australian Shepherd, Copper.
The well trained dogs are used by the local YMCA to educate people about the art of sled dog racing.
Training schedules run year around, even without snow. “In the summer we hook them to 4-wheelers,” Robin says. There is snow in Grand Marias from November to April most years. This provides people with many different places to race.
Robin finished in the top 10 at every John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon race (in Duluth, Minnesota) that she has entered in.
There is not a Select division in sled dog races. “I’m the oldest one out there, usually. I’m the old girl chasing all these young farts,” Robin jokes.
Her sled is pulled by eight dogs. The first set is called the lead dogs. “Their responsibilities are to take my commands of steering the sled and to lead the rest of the pack,” she says.
Then come the swing dogs, the team dogs and the wheel dogs, which are closest to the sled. “The biggest myth is that you want your biggest dogs as your wheel dogs,” Robin says. “You want smaller built dogs because the larger ones are not as agile.”
Getting ready for a dog sled race is a lot like getting ready for a horse show, Robin explains: “You have a lot of stuff to get ready, it’s like let’s go, let’s get on the trail. But, horse shows definitely make me jitterier.”
The dog sled races themselves are also like horse shows. Each team of dogs is required to have pre-race vet checks and at least one mandatory check along the route of the race. “The mushers are also (concerned about the dogs), if you don’t have healthy dogs you don’t go anywhere.”
The hardest part of sled dog racing for Robin is running at night: “It’s so narrow; all you see is basically the dogs in front of you. Even to this day I don’t like running at night.”
The hardest part of showing her horse as a Select is remembering everything.
Robin purchased her gelding, Always Heaven Sent, from her now trainer Jody Ploog, who bred and raised “James.” She travels five and a half hours, one way, to get to her weekly lessons.
Horse showing is where Robin goes to get away from the excitement of her racing life. She grew up showing and riding but took 30 years off.
“When I turned 50, I told my husband I wanted to buy a show horse,” Robin says. “Sled dogs are all about speed, fast, fast, fast, and then I come here and it is like, oh, it’s time to go slow.”